BGA Preview: Chargers at Jets

Bent , TheJetsBlog.com

I’ve been charting games for some of the Jets’ upcoming opponents, enabling me to break down what to watch out for on gameday, so I’ll be here every Sunday morning with an in depth breakdown of the Jets’ opponent for each of the remaining games this season.

This afternoon, the Jets face the San Diego Chargers in a game that’s been rendered pretty much meaningless by the Jets’ loss on Monday night. The 5-9 Chargers, long since eliminated from playoff contention, are in a similar boat to the Jets, in that they may use these last two games to give playing time to some young players with an eye on the future. However, I will break down what they’ve been doing over the last few games anyway, so we have some idea of what to expect later today.

After the jump, I break down the positional groupings (BGA-style!) to try and highlight what the Jets need to look out for.

Quarterbacks

Philip Rivers has struggled badly this season as the Chargers’ signal caller and his frustration regularly manifests itself in bad body language or temper tantrums. He’s still your classic pocket passer, having only run the ball nine times and throwing the ball away a league-leading 38 times. His play this season has been remarkably inconsistent. Still, he was good against the Steelers two weeks ago and bad against the Panthers last week, so he may be due for a good game. When he’s been bad, he’s been very bad – per PFF, he’s graded negatively six times this season, all below -2.0 and all losses.

Charlie Whitehurst is the backup, but hasn’t played yet this season.

Offensive Line

The Chargers offensive line wouldn’t be that bad apart from one major weakness. Undrafted rookie tackle Michael Harris, who had been starting on the left, currently has the worst pass blocking efficiency in the league at 87.1 per PFF. As a measure of how bad that is, Wayne Hunter’s PBE was 92.8 in 2011. The Chargers just placed Reggie Wells, who started the last game at left tackle on injured reserve, but veteran Jeromey Clary (who was awful in 2011, but has played well this year) may be set to return after having missed a couple of games with a knee injury and Kevin Haslam may get the call at the other tackle position. Louis Vasquez is probably the Chargers’ most reliable lineman at left guard, but center Nick Hardwick is another reliable veteran. Right guard Tyronne Green has missed the last few games with a hamstring injury as veteran Rex Hadnot has been filling in, but he could also be set to return as the Chargers’ line looks set to be as close to full strength as its been for a while. Having said that, the patchwork line held up superbly against the Steelers.

Also on the bench is a familiar name – former Jet Colin Baxter – who filled in briefly for an injured Hardwick in the Steelers having recently re-signed with the Chargers for the third time.

Running Backs

The Chargers just put their lead back Ryan Mathews on injured reserve with a broken collarbone, but it looks like Ronnie Brown is another Charger set to make his return from injury this week and he will likely fill in. Brown has been averaging 4.7 yards per carry and has 46 catches in his third down back role, so he still has something left. When Mathews went down last week, Curtis Brinkley and Jackie Battle shared reps in the backfield. Brinkley is averaging less than three yards on his 35 carries so far this year, but Battle has been slightly more productive and had a game where he ran for 69 yards and two touchdowns back in September.

Le’Ron McClain is the Chargers fullback and could be another option to carry the ball in Mathews’ absence.

Receivers

The third Charger to be placed on injured reserve this week was Michael Floyd, their leading receiver. However, Danario Alexander – the former Ram who they signed off the street at midseason – had been their top target in recent weeks. He didn’t actually catch a pass in last week’s blowout loss to Carolina, but prior to that had caught 33 passes for 555 yards and five TDs in the previous six games. Alexander has great size, but has been more of a possession receiver than a deep threat with just one catch on balls thrown more than 20 yards downfield this year.

Yet another injured player set to return today is former Bronco Eddie Royal, who has ability in the slot. However, their big-money acquisition in free agency – former Saint Robert Meachem – has not been getting much playing time and saw action on just one snap (a running play right at the end of the game) last week.

Antonio Gates is not the player he once was, but is still a productive receiving threat and can do damage in the red zone. They have depth behind him too, with Randy McMichael and Dante Rosario both decent blockers and receivers.

The Chargers do run a variety of packages on offense, but their bread and butter is a one back set with three receivers and Gates, who will sometimes be in the slot to create a four-wide set.

Defensive Line

The Chargers’ base defense is a 3-4 and on passing downs they will usually simply take a lineman out for a slot corner. Within that though, they do have a mixture of personnel packages, especially in the front seven.

With nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin doubtful with a knee injury, expect Corey Liuget, Kendall Reyes and Cam Thomas to get the bulk of the playing time. That’s a pretty solid unit, capable of generating pressure. Backup Vaughan Martin has struggled this year, but the Chargers have been gradually increasing Antonio Garay’s workload. The former Jet cast-off is a solid player but missed the first half of the season.

Linebackers

This is a unit that has used a bunch of different players in recent weeks, so it’s hard to predict who will be on the field. Donald Butler, who had missed some games with a groin injury, is another returning player and when he was healthy, he and 15th year veteran Takeo Spikes had been starting on the inside. However, they’ve also been giving starter reps to Demorrio Williams (although he’s been listed as questionable) and former Patriot Gary Guyton on the inside. Two youngsters in their second season, Andrew Gachkar (a 7th round pick) and Bront Bird (an undrafted free agent) have been getting worked into the rotation for the first time in recent weeks. Bird in particular has flashed some playmaking ability, especially in coverage.

The Chargers have depth on the outside too, despite the fact that Antwan Barnes (11 sacks in 2011) landed on injured reserve earlier in the season. Jets fans will be particularly interested to see Melvin Ingram, who many people believe they should have drafted. Ingram has been employed almost exclusively as a conventional outside linebacker – often in pass rushing situations. He is definitely capable of generating pressure, but only has one sack and two hits.

The starters have been veterans Shaun Phillips and Jarrett Johnson. Phillips has had a poor year, but still leads the team in sacks. Johnson, who the Jets supposedly targeted during the offseason, has always been better against the run than as a pass rusher. Also getting reps will be Larry English, but the 2009 first round pick has been a big disappointment and is still failing to make much of an impact.

Defensive Backs

The Chargers are another team that doesn’t match their cornerbacks with a receiver, instead assigning them to a particular side. Quintin Jammer plays left cornerback and Antoine Cason plays on the right. Neither is having a good season, as they’ve combined for 13 penalties. Safety Eric Weddle is still one of the best cover safeties in the NFL and is probably devastated that Mark Sanchez has been benched. The other safety spot is manned by Corey Lynch, who’s been decent since taking over from injured ex-Jet Atari Bigby a few weeks ago.

Off the bench, Marcus Gilchrist gets most of the reps at slot corner, but struggles in coverage. He’s decent against the run and rushing the passer though. Former USC product Shareece Wright may also get some looks and I;d expect rookie Brandon Taylor to get some work as a third safety.

Special Teams

Nick Novak, yet another Jets cast-off, is doing a good job as the kicker in the absence of former Jets postseason hero Nate Kaeding. He’s missed just twice in 17 field goal attempts. They also have a solid veteran punter in Mike Scifres – who beat out current Jets punter Robert Malone in preseason. They’ve used several different return men this year, with limited success, but if Royal returns, he’s capable of being a dangerous punt returner.

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I’ll be back on Monday to recap the game!

Stats from PFF were used in the completion of this article.